‘Drunken Indians,’ ‘poor Indians’ and other stereotypes
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Globetrotting coffee companion Jack Popjes reminded me recently of a line famously associated with Mark Twain: “The trouble with the world is . . . that they know so many things that aren’t so.”
Jack, author, speaker and longtime colleague of mine, was referring to a concern many of us share: the temptation to dismiss others with stereotypes rather than to get to know them for the beautiful people they really are.
In addition to his lengthy first-hand relationship with the Canela people, a remote, marginalized community in Brazil’s interior, he’s also former director of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada, one of the partners within Wycliffe Global Alliance, an NGO assisting in respect-based minority-language projects around the world.
In his response to my Oct. 10 column on the priority of respect, he shared the following story:
Thanks, Jack, for this account. It sounds like those folks who lived in the surrounding towns were the real losers in all this, blinded as they were by their stereotypes. If only they’d taken the opportunity to get to know some real Canela folks over a cup of coffee! (For Jack’s story-a-week blog, go to jackpopjes.com.)
Not all stereotypes are of this mean-spirited type, of course. Some demeaning stereotypes come packaged in the pretty wrappings of Hollywood’s “Noble Savage,” or in academia’s misguided patronizing practices toward First Nations students wrongly deemed incapable of earning their grades the usual way students who really are smart enough to earn their grades fair and square just like all other motivated students.
Then there’s the label, “those poor Indians.” I’ll close for now with this story:
Some years ago I was attending the funeral at Morley of one of my longtime heroes, Hanson Twoyoungmen, a Stoney Nakoda cowboy and community elder admired by all who knew him. He was also a guitar-strumming evangelist who helped many of his rodeo buddies, both First Nation and non-First Nation, break free from their addictions.
The small country church was so packed that there was standing-room-only outside on the lawn. I was among those standing outside, listening over the PA system to the tributes that were being heaped on my friend by respected ranchers and First Nations leaders from all over Alberta.
Standing near me was a young non-aboriginal couple I didn’t recognize. I soon learned from them that they had travelled down from northern Alberta where they were doing some kind of religious work. They just had to tell me that, as soon as they “heard there were Indians down here,” they felt “burdened to come down and help those poor Indians!”
© 2012 Warren Harbeck